alternate headline: man does job
It's no secret Michigan's defense hasn't been good this season even by the generally mediocre standard set by previous John Beilein teams. The Wolverines rank 134th nationally in defensive efficiency on KenPom; if that stands, it would be the lowest mark in Beilein's tenure by a healthy margin.
When I first watched the Iowa game, I hoped to find one or two issues I could isolate as the main cause of Michigan's defensive problems. On the first viewing, I identified a couple: Michigan's guards gave up the baseline too often, straining their already sub-par weakside defense. This example came to mind:
This was even worse:
There are two big problems on that play. Walton does a poor job defending the high side screen, allowing his man to turn down the pick and get the baseline. This forces Duncan Robinson to rotate over, which he does—he's improved a lot in that regard—but communication is lacking on the weak side and MAAR isn't in position to contest the corner three.
As the screencap at the top of the post indicates, communication was the other deficiency I noticed right away. When Michigan doubled in the post or switched on a screen, they often ended up with two players guarding one guy off the ball while the other was left alone for a layup. Screencaps are sufficient here; both these plays ended in a layup:
Jarrod Uthoff got a crucial late bucket when Iowa ran a pair of baseline screens and Aubrey Dawkins had no idea who to guard:
Those two issues—dribble penetration opening up weakside threes and blowing rotations off the ball—caught my attention on the first viewing.
Unfortunately, a second pass through the game revealed more problems. A couple Iowa three-pointers I initially believed were caused by the weakside defender were instead the product of poor pick-and-roll defense. Michigan eschewed their normal hard hedge against high screens in favor of a softer, more conservative approach for much of the game, and they didn't execute it well.
On this play, Dawkins gets hung up on the screen too long, which causes a domino effect—Mark Donnal has to wait an extra beat before sinking back into the paint, which forces MAAR to stay on the rolling big instead of getting back to his man in the corner:
On this pick-and-roll, Iowa gets a layup when Walton and Donnal play soft, Mike Gesell has an open passing lane, and the help from Robinson is late and wouldn't have prevented an Adam Woodbury bucket regardless:
One more P&R failure for good measure: when Michigan went back to a hard hedge, Walton doubled Uthoff in the paint instead of guarding Woodbury, who was all alone next to the basket.
Finally, Michigan also had trouble identifying shooters in transition, something Beilein discussed in the postgame presser. On this play, Iowa pushes the pace off a defensive rebound, and the Wolverines initially stymie the attempt to get an easy bucket. Again, a lack of communication comes to the forefront, as Dawkins switches men while Iowa swings the ball around the perimeter, which is news to Donnal:
This is pretty basic stuff that Michigan still can't get right. A couple takeaways from the above:
There's no single fix. There's plenty of stuff that's gone wrong here that doesn't even touch on the lack of a true post presence, which I still believe is the biggest problem with Beilein's defenses. There isn't one defender at the heart of these issues—though Dawkins stands out in a bad way, this goes far beyond him. Getting this defense up to simply mediocre will require fixing multiple areas of deficiency.
But if I had to pick one, it's communication. A lot of these easy baskets result from players not talking to each other. Those screencaps are frustrating and telling.
Long story short, it's tough to see Michigan improving to the point where the defense isn't a liability. We're beyond the midway point and there are myriad problem areas. Players like Robinson and Donnal have progressed during the season from starting points that were frankly bad, but they may have maxed out their defensive potential for this season. Hopefully getting Caris LeVert back—whenever that may be—solves some of the communication problems, but those are also widespread enough that I doubt one man clears them up.
The good news is the offense has plenty of firepower. Michigan is going to have to lean on that for the duration unless they have a team-wide defensive improvement we haven't seen out of a Beilein team during the course of a single season.
Harbaugh hates recruiting. Check the timestamp.
— Jay Harbaugh (@JayHarbaugh) January 19, 2016
— Jeremy Crabtree (@jeremycrabtree) January 14, 2016
There is nothing that has a winner and a loser that Jim Harbaugh hates.
Funny money. OSU announced a huge Nike contract that was a ton more than Michigan in the same way that NFL contracts have a huge headline number but are actually something less remarkable under the hood. The OSU edge is in apparel awarded, which the Buckeyes padded out for the shiny number. The actual details:
- Both schools have a 15-year deal; Michigan has an opt-out after 11.
- Michigan gets 12 million upfront; OSU gets 20.
- OSU gets 3.44 million for the first 11 years and 4.44 for the last four.
- M gets 4.82 million for the first ten years, 5.32 in 11, and 5.82 for the last four.
- Total dough: Michigan, 88.8 million. Ohio State, 75.6 million.
OSU gets more upfront but inflation isn't sufficient to make up the deficit, especially since Michigan has an opt-out four years earlier. So OSU's "biggest ever contract" actually delivers 13 million fewer dollars than Michigan's. But OSU gets more Nike volleyballs so they've got that going for them.
Thanks, guys. Michigan lands a couple guys on CBS's list of the best players to pass on the NFL draft this year:
Jake Butt, Michigan TE: Butt had a chance to jump up in a weak tight end class in the NFL Draft but chose to return for his senior season instead. Michigan's passing game could see a boost next season with Houston transfer John O'Korn getting a shot at starters reps after sitting out which would mean even better numbers (and more draft film) for Butt heading into 2017.
Jourdan Lewis, Michigan CB: Lewis and King will be the easy picks for preseason All-Big Ten in 2016 and likely be compared through the season as the Thorpe Award narrows its list for next year. Lewis was also an All-Big Ten and All-American pick this year and leads what has suddenly become a stacked secondary in Ann Arbor.
Desmond King and Dan Feeney also make the list, which is bereft of Buckeyes.
That one play to Hill in the BYU game. James Light breaks down the "T-delay" passing concept, which Michigan pulled out for a big first down against BYU and again in the bowl game:
The Patriots run a version of it as well; the idea is to sell yourself as a blocker before releasing. Light also has some defensive resources I'm trying to figure out.
Meanwhile at the Shrine Game. Graham Glasgow is leaping off the page to multiple observers.
C Graham Glasgow (Michigan) was the most impresive OL today for the East Team. Great size, strong at point of attack, gets to 2nd level.
— NFL Draft Blitz (@NFLDraftBlitz) January 19, 2016
Graham Glasgow/Michigan continues his domination. Destroying everything and everyone today.
— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) January 19, 2016
Another element to Graham Glasgow's game; not just controlling opponents on line but just made a great block five yards out on the 2nd level
— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) January 19, 2016
Meanwhile he was Mike Mayock's main takeaway early:
"He was the guy who really stood out to me," Mayock said. "It's a strong year for centers, but he looks like an NFL starter. Very strong. He could compete at the Senior Bowl."
Seniors Ryan Kelly of Alabama and Nick Martin of Notre Dame are considered the top two centers in this year's draft, followed by another 7-8 with draftable grades. Glasgow now should be firmly in that latter category, and could move up to mid-round status as the draft process continues
Would it be gauche of me to point out that this is another mark in the "UFR is useful and I am not an idiot" column? It would be? Aw, hamburgers.
OSU fallout. Michigan got off rather light:
Suspended: Cutler Martin gets three games and Dexter Dancs gets two games, including Thursday's exhibition, for fight vs. OSU.
— Michael Spath (@Spath_Wolverine) January 19, 2016
With the NTDP game next that means Martin will be back after the Penn State series and Dancs will only miss one game.
1980 seniors. Via Dr. Sap:
Smooth move. USA Hockey left Kyle Connor off the WJC team for… reasons. Chris Dilks notes that those were probably not good reasons:
3. Kyle Connor has played eight games since being snubbed by the US World Junior and has scored 20 points. The rest of the Big Ten might be even madder that he didn't get picked than I am. Connor is now tied for the national lead in goals scored with 18 and tied for second in points with 36. His linemate Tyler Motte is also at 18 goals and tied atop the leaderboard in goal-scoring.
He has various other takes from Michigan-OSU and the rest of college hockey in that post.
Midterm hockey rankings. Midterm ratings from the CSB indicate most of Michigan's incoming hockey class should get drafted:
U-M commits in NHLCentral Scouting's mid-term rankings: Luce (No.54), Lockwood (No.69), Johnson (No.97), Pastujov (No.100), Sanchez (No.135)
— George Sipple (@GeorgeSipple) January 19, 2016
As always, Central Scouting splits North American and European skaters so multiply by 1.5 to get an approximate draft slot. Luce would be a third rounder, Lockwood in the fourth or fifth, and so on.
In addition to those guys Michigan also brings in D Luke Martin, who will not be eligible for the NHL draft until 2017. He is projected as a first round pick, and depending on who you listen to possibly a top ten pick.
One thing to watch: Michigan brings in a whopping eight skaters next year despite having just two seniors (and goalie Steve Racine). While a couple of NHL departures are likely (Werenski is all but foreordained at this point), Michigan is going to have to push some guys back to 2017 or carry a big roster next year. One player (Lukas Samuelsson) has not been announced by Michigan is a walk-on; everyone else is signed to at least some money.
Michigan has a big fish coming in the next year when Michael Pastujov, the younger brother of Nick listed above, arrives. This random NHL mock draft site has him going 4th overall. The NTDP appears to be absolutely loaded, BTW, with six of the top 15 picks in that admittedly speculative mock draft.
Jabrill is okay. Would recruit again.
Of course. The ACC and SEC are trying to ban satellite camps because… they in fact have no reason to do so, they just want to. I'd like to point you to this article from last summer where I gently explain to an Alabama fan that satellite camps are good for prospects as if he cares about that.
Next up, I explain to Penn State fans why making gay jokes about Jim Harbaugh in-home visits is a bad look.
Etc.: Jedd Fisch gets extended two years. His cost was artificially low because he was on a buyout from the Jaguars; this should help keep him around a while. Passing game made huge progress this year.
Partridge on his promotion. Basketball sets a home and home with Cinci the next two years. Walk-on tryouts are on the 23rd. Kenpom on one of the ways RPI is broken. Kiper says Willie Henry could be a first-rounder. Corn Nation on Lawrence Phillips.
I was curious as to how the various recruiting sites made out with their rankings now that all four services have been around long enough. 247 was just starting up in 2011 and had some rankings but not the depth of the other services, which may have helped them since this class was… uh… not good.
No significant differences
Sites were bang on with most of these. Clark was the biggest miss but he was 210 pounds in high school. You can see why that was a miss. Morgan and Rawls probably should have been ranked in the four-star range if we're going on overall ability, even if Rawls didn't make an impact at Michigan. FWIW, I grabbed Morgan as my sleeper of the year. This was the second-best choice behind Clark.
Gol-dang this was a sad recruiting class.
Not Applicable: Antonio Poole redshirted and was struck down by an injury immediately afterwards.
Hayes was kind of a big deal, cracking the Rivals 100 and landing just outside of the Scout and 247 top 100 lists. ESPN had him as a four star but an unranked one, significantly lower than the other services.
Hayes never got much run at Michigan and was the only back to transfer away from Late Fred Jackson and not blow up. He had 52 carries for 204 yards at Southern Miss last year. He was overrated by everyone, some more than others.
2nd (T): Scout, 247
Bryant was an enormous pile-moving guard out of Chicago who fielded intermittent practice hype but could not lock down a starting spot; he eventually had an injury-forced retirement.
Still, in retrospect there was enough of a scouting difference to include him. Rivals rated him a four-star, the #203 player in the country, and as an offensive tackle. All other sites rated him a three-star guard, with ESPN the most skeptical.
1st: Scout, 247, ESPN
Everybody liked Beyer enough to rank him as a four star but there was a decided split. Scout placed him in their top 100. Rivals and 247 both had him around 200th nationally; ESPN ranked him significantly below everyone else.
Beyer went on to have a solid career, one in which he was frequently miscast by his coaches whether by inane choice or necessity. He was a starter, but not a particularly notable one. Unranked four-star seems about right.
2nd(T): Rivals, 247
Jones didn't make it to his first game as a Wolverine, embarking on a vagabond journey unparalleled in the history of Michigan recruits. He never made an impact at Michigan, Oklahoma, Clemson, or Wisconsin.
Scout gave him a fourth star; Rivals and ESPN middling three-star rankings. A nascent 247 did not rank him at all.
2nd: Rivals, ESPN
Michigan actually had to flip Taylor from Indiana after Brady Hoke came aboard; he was slotted in at cornerback and became a three-year starter. He was not drafted and never received any sort of all conference recognition and is thus hard to judge. If you knew what Raymon Taylor's career was going to be like, how would you rate him?
I'm guessing low four star, which is exactly what Rivals said. Scout and 247 said mid-to-high three, which is also an acceptable answer. ESPN was incorrectly harsh, labeling him the #95 ATH in the country.
2nd(T): Scout, 247
The diminutive Hollowell got some run as a nickel corner but was most famous for tweeting in all caps; he was just too small to have major impact. ESPN ranked him the #15 CB in the class and a four star; everyone else said three but there was reasonable spread. Rivals said #25 CB, Scout #40, and 247 didn't give him a positional rating.
I'm punting on Countess. Is he the guy who was All Big Ten as a sophomore playing zone? Or is he the guy who Will Fuller ran away from over and over again? If Michigan had stuck with the coverage Countess ran early in his career he would have seemed like a much better player; alas for his sake, they did not.
He was a four star to everyone with rankings ranging from #133 (Rivals) to outside the top 300 (ESPN), both of which are correct and incorrect.
What have we learned?
Mostly that a post like this isn't interesting when most of the class falls into the generic three-star range. Also that the transitional Hoke/Rodriguez class was incredibly sad.
Points for recruits on which there was sufficient data and difference of opinion to rank:
This is an incredibly small sample size and if you draw conclusions from it the statistics gremlins will spank you in your sleep.
1 hour 22 minutes
Maryland win is major key for tournament standing, and was acquired without Levert. Helpside defense meh. Duncan diversifying. DJ Wilson flashed a little something against Iowa. Walton's up and down D.
ACE'S HOCKEY PODCAST
#chaoshockey is fun until it's not fun and then it's fun again. Cutler Martin did a bad thing. Tourney standing. I continue pounding the "Dan Dickerson should do Michigan PBP" drum.
INSIDE THE CROOKED BLUE LINE WITH STEVE LORENZ
We manage to get through a segment with Steve without talking about darts. Instead we run down LITERALLY EVERY TARGET MICHIGAN HAS LEFT ON ITS BOARD WOOOOO.
"Across 110th Street"
"Hi, Hey There, Hello", the Mowglis
"Say Hello," Jay-Z
THE USUAL LINKS
Friday, January 15, 2016
Ohio State 5, #6 Michigan 5
Jobst goal, Ohio State
OSU 1 UM 0 EV 09:12 Assists: Larocque & Brevig
Brevig shoots for the boards, and the puck rolls around to Larocque at the opposite point. This looks like a pretty innocuous start to a play until we focus on what’s happening in that scrum in front of Racine.
The next three screen caps take place as the puck is making its way from Brevig’s stick to Larocque’s. Martin shoves Jobst, who bumps Racine hard enough that he ends up nearly outside the crease. Racine’s first reaction after the goal is to skate directly to the ref to complain about the contact, but it was initiated by his own skater.
To make matters worse, Cecconi accidentally skates into Racine. He’s able to reset and lock down the opposite post, but it’s a panicked scramble just to get there.
Jobst, who you may remember as the guy who ran into Racine a couple of screen caps ago, has now skated out of the crease and is lingering in the bottom of the faceoff circle. Larocque throws a shot on net from the point, and Jobst redirects it just inside the far-side post.
Martin gets bumped by another skater in the crease and loses Jobst, allowing him to get out of the crease and into the faceoff circle unchecked.
[After THE JUMP: “Fluky,” the all-encompassing adjective of the day]
1/15/2016 – Michigan 5, Ohio State 5 (OT) – 13-3-4, 4-1-2 Big Ten
1/18/2016 – Michigan 8, Ohio State 6 – 14-3-4, 5-1-2 Big Ten
I can't do better describing the alternating waves of euphoria and loathing this hockey season imposes on the fan than this guy who asked a question on twitter:
@mgoblog if this were football would Michigan be Baylor or Indiana?
— Grant Williams (@g_williams_1999) January 18, 2016
I was feeling pretty Indiana as Michigan looked set to drop Sunday's game. Three minutes later I was feeling pretty Baylor as 3-5 turned into 6-5.
The scoreline is everything. If you're up this is one of the most electric Michigan offenses since Brendan Morrison. If you're down this is just another late Berenson team that waddles around wasting its talent with mind-bending defensive breakdowns. Last weekend was a high-amplitude sine wave oscillating from one state to the other.
In the aftermath of an okay weekend we can see that both things are true. Michigan's top line of Motte-Compher-Connor is putting up numbers Michigan hasn't seen since Red's hair was actually red. Connor (18-18-36) is second nationally in PPG. Compher (7-25-32) is fifth. Motte (18-10-28) is tied for thirteenth. Motte and Connor are tied for the national lead in goals per game. If this keeps up someone is going to have to dig through the history books to see where those guys stack up.
Meanwhile someone tweeted out that it was "incredible" that Steve Racine had only given up five goals, and was entirely correct.
— Jeremy Parks (@j_mitchell47) January 17, 2016
That is one period! One period of hockey on skates and everything! Michigan skates five NHL draft picks on defense! Steve Racine has a .906 save percentage and he's kind of a hero!
Michigan was outshot 27-16 in that second period, fell behind by two goals, and proceeded to not allow Ohio State a shot until they had run off four consecutive goals in the first ten minutes of the third. So I dunno man.
So far they've managed to make it work, and as the season progresses their schedule looks less and less like an albatross. Each game Dartmouth wins both helps Michigan's tourney chances and slightly reframes how impressive Michigan's record is. With everything going right—about which more later—Michigan has a very good record against a reasonable schedule. Their RPI SOS is 20th and the rest of the season is split 50/50 between good teams and bad.
They're probably going to make it. Unless they don't. During the second intermission last night I was sure they weren't. I mean, anything can happen at any time. But they've built themselves a buffer here, and seem to be outracing their mistakes. Big Twelve Hockey is now a thing, and it lives in Ann Arbor.
Get in and anything can happen. This used to be a curse; now it feels like hope. Michigan switches between behemoth and bust multiple times a weekend. Indiana or Baylor? Ask again later.
Why did that even happen? For all the rivalry stuff that gets tossed around, OSU games aren't unusually chippy most of the time. The 8-6 series finisher was exceptionally clean throughout, largely because everybody was too busy scoring to hit people. Then all hell breaks loose in the aftermath, including an ugly incident where Cutler Martin punched a defenseless guy on the ice in full view of the world:
— Bill Rapai (@BRapai) January 18, 2016
I can't imagine Martin is going to be available for an important Penn State series after that. There was a bunch of other extracurriculars that might ensnare another player or two as well. All of it came seemingly out of nowhere.
I don't know what to make of the defense. When you're as bad as Michigan was this weekend it's not anything that is traceable to one player, or even the defense corps as a whole. Michigan has breakdowns all game every game from wingers, centers, and defensemen. I kind of thought things were getting fixed during the MSU series, but that was probably just MSU being very bad at hockey.
I do wish we'd held on to Andrew Copp. In retrospect Larkin was never going to stick around since he's an NHL all-star. Copp also went direct to the NHL but has 4 points in 41 games; his defensive abilities would be very welcome on this team.
OSU does not feel like a bad team. The contrast between OSU and MSU couldn't have been greater despite their similar records. Michigan spent half of the Friday game unable to get a clean zone exit because of the OSU forecheck. The Buckeyes are also super aggressive on penalty kills. They made a lot of mistakes in an attempt to control the game; contrast that with MSU's incredibly passive style. One of those styles has upside.
For big stretches of both games OSU took the game to Michigan; Michigan fought back and tilted the ice the other way after settling down and devising adjustments to what OSU was doing. The Buckeyes are very young this year; if they finish the year as strongly as they've played over the last month they could be a team to keep an eye on next year.
Man, Dan Dickerson is good. I'm not really a baseball person but I've heard bits and pieces of Tigers games for years because I'm often tuned to WTKA. Dickerson is their play by play guy, and while he's good it doesn't leap out at you because baseball is a slow, leisurely sport. Dickerson comes off as a very professional but standard baseball guy.
Hearing him do the games this weekend was a revelation. He was outstanding at a completely different variety of sport, one with a ton of things happening one after the other.
Here is a thought: Michigan needs a real play by play guy. Jim Brandstatter is a miscast color guy and I think everyone knows it; Michigan should add Dickerson to the booth. September might be tough but making it work would be good for everyone.
I thought Manny Legace was also good. He does the thing that goalies (in any sport) do where they focus a bit too much on the guy between the pipes, but he had a lot of interesting technical hockey things he related intelligibly.
A shootout doesn't matter to the pairwise so Michigan gets a win and a tie out of the weekend. Michigan slides up to 7th in the rankings. I am pleasantly surprised by this. I thought it would be tough for Michigan to move up much unless they had good weekends against PSU and Minnesota.
Why is this less grim than I was projecting early in the season?
- OSU won its tourney. Wins over BC and Cornell (8-0!) are inexplicable. They also give OSU a huge boost. Whereas before they were hanging out in MSU territory in RPI they're 38th now, ie, worth beating.
- BU has done well. They're 12th in RPI, which give Michigan a quality win bump in addition to helping them out with SOS.
- So has Dartmouth. They've won 5 of 6 and are just inside the top 20.
- Robert Morris is beating up on Atlantic Hockey. They're 21st in RPI, just a hair away from the quality win bump, and should continue that—they have a +32 goal differential in conference.
- The Big Ten is heavily stratified. Both PSU and Minnesota are in the top twenty while OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin cannot buy wins against the top of the league. This helps all three teams with at-large hopes thanks to QWB.
Everything that could go right for Michigan's RPI has over the past few weeks, which has moved Michigan off the bubble despite not having opponents who provide much traction.
Rooting interests remain obvious: for PSU and Minnesota and all of Michigan's nonconference opponents. You should double down on hating MSU—not that you have a problem with that—because they are so low in RPI that soon wins against them will not even count in Michigan's calculations, at which point MSU losses boost the rest of the Big Ten while not impacting M.